15 dark horror movie endings that will chill you to the bone

Ending a horror movie is a tough job. Get it right with a killer twist and you’ve got a potential classic on your hands. Mess it up and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. The best horror movies really get under your skin and stick in the mind - especially when they deliver a bleak ending that throws up one last jaw-dropping shock. When the genre goes dark, it really goes dark. The following scary movies boast the kind of all-hope-is-lost finales guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine. Watch these at your peril - and beware of major spoilers lying ahead...

1. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

The movie: After finishing Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi returned to his Evil Dead roots with this horror about a loan officer whose coat button is cursed by a gypsy. Alison Lohman takes on scream queen duties as she fends off evil spirits, projectile nosebleeds, and a possessed goat with a taste for human flesh. Oh, and there’s the whole threat of the curse sending her to hell for eternity if she can’t banish it within three days!

The ending: Lohman’s Christine believes she’s vanquished the curse, only for her boyfriend to reveal he still has the possessed button. In shock she tumbles off a train platform onto the tracks and is pulled into the fiery depths of hell. How’s that for delivering on the promise of your title?

2. Don't Look Now (1973)

The movie: Nicolas Roeg’s spine-tinglingly creepy film follows a grief-stricken couple - Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland - retreating to Venice after the death of their daughter. There they’re met by two sisters claiming their daughter is trying to contact them from beyond the grave. Sutherland’s John is spooked by visions of a childlike figure clad in a red coat similar to the one his daughter wore when she drowned. Plus, there’s also the worrying matter of a serial killer on the loose in the city.

The ending: John confronts the girl in red thinking it’s his daughter - instead she reveals herself as a terrifying dwarf and slashes his throat with a blade. The killer claims her latest victim and as John is bleeding to death we realise that his visions were premonitions of his own grim demise.

3. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The movie: A routine autopsy from a father-and-son coroner team goes haywire when the corpse turns out to be a centuries old witch about to unleash supernatural hell. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch face the wrath of Olwen Catherine Kelly’s cadaver, who conjures up a storm outside to cut power, re-animates other corpses in the morgue and, perhaps worst of all, kills a cat. She’s even able to withstand being set on fire by the increasingly panicked coroners.

The ending: In truly depressing fashion, the corpse manages to kill off both Cox and Hirsch’s characters before being driven off to a morgue in another county. In the film’s ominous final shot, the body’s toe wiggles suggesting she’s ready to do this all over again.

4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The movie: Three film students get more than they bargain for when they venture deep into the heart of the Maryland woods to make a documentary about the Blair Witch. Heather, Mike, and Josh become increasingly unsettled in the wilderness as they encounter a spectral force hell-bent on hunting them down. Cue Heather’s iconic, snotty-nosed straight-to-camera apology and a terrified Josh running off into the woods leaving the crew to fend for themselves.

The ending: Heather and Mike follow the sound of Josh’s agonising screams to a derelict house. There they get separated before Heather stumbles upon Mike standing motionless facing a wall. She gets attacked by something off-screen, drops her camera to the floor and we cut to black.

5. The Others (2001)

The movie: Arriving hot on the heels of the similar-themed Sixth Sense, Alejandro Amenábar’s effective candle-lit chiller manages to pack even more of a downbeat punch. The story sees Nicole Kidman’s God-fearing mother shut out sunlight from her Victorian mansion in order to protect her photosensitive kids. However, when three elderly servants are hired things soon start to go bump in the night.

The ending: Everybody’s dead! Grace, her kids, and the servants are all ghosts, existing in the mansion side-by-side with the living. The brutal truth about Grace? She lost her mind, smothered her children in their sleep then turned a gun on herself. Dark!

6. Oculus (2013)

The movie: Spanning two timelines, Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites play siblings desperate to prove that a haunted mirror caused the death of their parents. Director Mike Flanagan cleverly cuts between past and present, as Gillan’s Kayleigh and Thwaites’s Tim - fresh out of psychiatric hospital - experience terrifying hallucinations. Kayleigh plans to destroy the mirror with a suspended anchor, but this is a horror movie and things never quite go to plan...

The ending: The mirror tricks Tim into releasing the anchor to destroy it - unfortunately Kayleigh is stood in the way and the weight goes straight through the back of her head. Tim is hauled away by the police, but not before seeing the ghosts of his sister and parents staring right back at him.

7. The Thing (1982)

The movie: John Carpenter’s remake of ‘50s sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World pits Kurt Russell’s RJ MacReady against an extraterrestrial entity causing carnage at an Antarctic research station. The ‘Thing’ in question is able to shapeshift and assume the identity of other humans, meaning everybody - from Keith David’s Childs to the station’s sled dogs - could be housing the vicious alien parasite.

The ending: MacReady blows up the compound in a bid to destroy The Thing, only to see Childs reappear out of nowhere. As the pair’s campfire burns out, the downbeat finale implies that the alien has found a new host in Childs - and if not, they’ll both freeze to death in the icy chill.

8. The Wicker Man (1973)

The movie: After receiving an anonymous tip, Edward Woodward’s police sergeant Neil Howie journeys to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle in search of a missing 12-year-old girl. There he finds locals who deny she ever existed, a community built on paganism, and Christopher Lee’s imposing island leader Lord Summerisle. As Howie dives further into the island’s dark secrets, he starts to believe that the missing girl has been taken to be used as a human sacrifice.

The ending: Howie discovers that the girl isn’t the human sacrifice - it’s him! Bundled into a giant wicker man statue and set on fire, he screams out in horror and prays to God as the locals sing a Celtic folksong and sway in unison.

9. High Tension (2003)

The movie: Alexandre Aja’s grisly French offering follows two friends, Cécile De France’s Marie and Maïwenn’s Alexia, on a weekend farmhouse getaway that turns very, very bad. A vicious killer breaks into the home, murders Alexia’s family, then kidnaps her, unaware that Marie is there and on his trail to rescue her friend. Violent and gory, High Tension plays out like a classic revenge horror - right until its dramatic final twist...

The ending: Marie may have looked destined to be the final girl, but High Tension upends the genre trope by revealing that she’s the killer and we’ve witnessed her split-personality rampage. The last scene shows Marie in a psychiatric hospital, somehow able to see Alexia through a one-way mirror.

10. The Shining (1980)

The movie: Stanley Kubrick’s beloved horror may not have pleased the story’s original author Stephen King, but it brought a career-best performance out of Jack Nicholson as a novelist spiralling into madness. The Overlook Hotel is the venue for Kubrick’s mayhem, with the Torrance family experiencing rivers of blood pouring out of elevators, young Danny having terrifying visions (“red rum!”) and Nicholson turning into an axe-wielding maniac.

The ending: On the run from his father in a maze outside the hotel, Danny eventually gets away leaving Jack Torrance to freeze to death in the snow. Then we see a photograph showing Jack at a party in the hotel’s lounge, only it’s dated 1921. Impossible? Yes... or is Jack an eternal prisoner of the Overlook?

11. Saw (2004)

The movie: Cary Elwes’s Lawrence and Leigh Whannell’s Adam wake up as prisoners in a bathroom with a corpse lying between them and no memory of how they got there. Awaiting them is a sadistic game set by their captor Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) - one of them must kill the other or they’ll both bite the dust. Saw may not be as gory or elaborate as its sequels, but it’s still a nasty little horror movie that packs a shockingly downbeat punch.

The ending: Lawrence saws off his foot with a hacksaw to escape his shackles, then shoots Adam in a bid to escape. Adam survives and, after Lawrence leaves, the corpse rises from the floor and reveal himself as Jigsaw. He then locks Adam in the bathroom bleakly telling him it’s “game over”.

12. The Mist (2007)

The movie: A small Maine town is swept up in a thick mist containing dangerous creatures that the military is called in to deal with. After a bloodied old man bursts into the local supermarket yelling about the dangers in the mist, the shoppers - including Thomas Jane’s Dave Drayton - lock themselves in and prepare for the worst the tentacled beasts have to offer. Little does Dave know that things only get worse when he steps outside.

The ending: Escaping the supermarket, Dave, his son, and three passengers drive off into the mist before running out of petrol. With hope lost, Dave shoots everyone in the car but doesn’t have a bullet for himself. Then, in a deliciously bleak turn, the mist clears and the military arrive - Dave is distraught, realising his passengers were moments from being saved.

13. Martyrs (2008)

The movie: A controversial French horror cut from the same cloth as High Tension, Martyrs follows two young women, Anna and Lucie, who embark on a quest for revenge against the latter’s childhood captors. Falling into insanity, Lucie commits suicide and leaves Anna in the hands of elderly nutcase Mademoiselle. It turns out Anna is the latest in a line of young women being put through extreme torture to push them to experience the afterlife.

The ending: Mademoiselle asks Anna if she saw the beyond, and the answer prompts her to turn a gun on herself. It’s a darkly ambiguous ending - is there everything or nothing after death? All we know is the film finishes abruptly with Anna in a comatose state.

14. The Descent (2005)

The movie: After the death of her husband and daughter, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) heads off on a cave diving expedition with five friends to take her mind off the tragedy. The group’s trip goes awry when a passageway out collapses and they encounter humanoid creatures with a habit for crawling up walls and savagely ripping out throats. Sarah finds herself in a physical and psychological battle as members of her group start getting picked off.

The ending: Waking up in a cavern Sarah makes a daring escape, only for a cruel jolt of reality to hit her - she never made it out at all and instead hallucinates her dead daughter as the crawlers circle in for the kill. Sarah’s descent into madness is complete.

15. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The movie: George A. Romero’s horror classic practically invented the zombie genre, and it still holds up to this day. A group of townsfolk, led by Duane Jones’s Ben, hole themselves up inside a barn as the dead begin to come back to life. The zombies break through the barricades, leading Ben to lock himself in a cellar to avoid the undead. The peace is short-lived though, as he’s forced to kill a couple who stir back to life as flesh-eating zombies.

The ending: The next morning Ben is awoken by the sound of gunfire. Peering outside the window, the locals mistake him for a zombie and he’s shot dead. “Let’s go get him, that’s another one for the fire,” says the ringleader in the film’s depressing final seconds.

Simon Reynolds

Simon is a film and entertainment writer with a love for The Simpsons, Bruce Springsteen, and a long-standing delusion that he’ll one day play for Nottingham Forest. He's also written for publications including Digital Spy, the Press Association, The Guardian, The New York Times, MSN, the LA Times, and Rotten Tomatoes, among others.